Olmstead v. L.C.

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This article is about the court case concerning the institutionalization of individuals with mental disabilities. For the court case regarding wiretapping and privacy, see Olmstead v. United States.
Olmstead v. L.C.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued April 21, 1999
Decided June 22, 1999
Full case name Tommy Olmstead, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Human Resources, et al., Petitioners v. L. C., by Jonathan Zimring, guardian ad litem and next friend, et al.
Citations 527 U.S. 581 (more)
119 S. Ct. 2176; 144 L. Ed. 2d 540; 1999 U.S. LEXIS 4368; 67 U.S.L.W. 4567; 9 Am. Disabilities Cas. (BNA) 705; 99 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4859; 99 Daily Journal DAR 6263; 1999 Colo. J. C.A.R. 3627; 12 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 424
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Ginsburg, joined by Stevens, O'Connor, Souter, Breyer (parts I, II, III-A); O'Connor, Souter, Breyer (part III-B)
Concurrence Stevens
Concurrence Kennedy, joined by Breyer (part I)
Dissent Thomas, joined by Rehnquist, Scalia

Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), is a United States Supreme Court case regarding discrimination against people with mental disabilities. The Supreme Court held that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with mental disabilities have the right to live in the community rather than in institutions if, in the words of the opinion of the Court, "the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities." [1] The case was brought by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.


Tommy Olmstead, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Human Resources, et al. v. L. C., by Zimring, guardian ad litem and next friend, et al.[2] (Olmstead v. L.C.) was a case filed in 1995 and decided in 1999 before the United States Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, L.C. (Lois Curtis) and E.W. (Elaine Wilson, deceased December 4, 2005),[3] were two women who had diagnoses of mental retardation and schizophrenia, and mental retardation and personality disorder, respectively.[4] They had both been treated in institutional settings and in community based treatments in the state of Georgia.

Following clinical assessments by state employees, both plaintiffs were determined to be better suited by treatment in a community based setting rather than in the institution. Both sued the state of Georgia to prevent them from being inappropriately treated and housed in the institutional setting.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The case rose to the level of the Supreme Court which decided the case in 1999. A major aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in determining that mental illness is a form of disability and therefore covered under the ADA. Title II of the ADA applies to 'public entities' and include 'state and local governments' and 'any department, agency or special purpose district' and protects any 'qualified person with a disability' from exclusion from participation in or denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity.[5]

The Supreme Court decided mental illness is a form of disability and that institutional isolation of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination under Title II of the ADA. Institutionalization perpetuates unwarranted assumptions about people with disabilities and their ability to participate in community life. Institutionalization can also severely diminish the quality of life of persons with mental illness by severing connections to family and other social contacts as well as limiting economic independence. In addition the court decided that the state must transfer the plaintiffs to a community based treatment center. Title II requires that public entities make 'reasonable accommodations' to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability unless those modifications would entail a 'fundamental alteration' of the entities services, program or activity. However, there was an integration mandate that states must develop comprehensive plans to end unnecessary institutionalization at a 'reasonable pace' with the goal of integrating individuals with disabilities into mainstream society to the fullest extent possible.

Ten years after Olmstead, the State of Georgia has still not complied with desegregating most of its institutions.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/ada/olmsteadoverview.htm
  2. ^ [1] Syllabus and opinions of the Supreme Court regarding Olmstead
  3. ^ [2] Atlanta Legal Aid Society
  4. ^ [3] Robert “Bobby” Silverstein, J.D., Director, Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy
  5. ^ [4] Americans with Disabilities Act website by the Federal Government
  6. ^ Georgia stalls as disabled endure, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sue Jamieson and Talley Wells, October 8, 2009 [5]

External links[edit]

Text of Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999) is available from:  Cornell  Findlaw  Justia